The other morning I awoke at 5:00 a.m., my usual wake up time, a nice quiet time when I usually watch a movie while relaxing in bed awaiting the wonderful aroma of my pre-set coffee maker, which I have timed to start at 6:30. This hour and a half is usually just right to watch a classic movie, a favorite start to my day. So I fluff my pillow, sit up in bed, and put my TV ears on (in deference to my apartment neighbors, who might have different hours). Well, to my dismay my cable company was having an issue with its new digital X1 system: “Unable to access the X1 system at this time, try back later.” What, no movie, no relaxing start to my day, now what do I do? I suppose I could get up, turn the coffee machine on early, but that will screw up my equilibrium for the day. No, this is unacceptable! Wait a minute; I have a DVD player attached tyo the TV and a fairly extensive movie library. I’ll just pop in a DVD, and all’s right with the world again.
Since it is still dark out, and not wanting to be blinded by a putting on a light, I poke my hand into one of my large wicker baskets which house my DVDs (Let the chips fall where they may). By the glow of the TV, frozen in time with that dreadful message, I look at what I have picked, and “eureka,” I have hit gold. The fates have stepped in and given me just what I needed, a comedy, and one which I can enjoy at any time…no real surprise though since I wouldn’t have a copy of it if I didn’t like it. The movie is The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, a somewhat prophetic choice in view of the impending 4th of July holiday weekend and the fact that I live on Cape Cod. Perhaps only I see the comparisons as this story occurs to vacationing summer people on Gloucester Island, in my home state of Massachusetts, which is not actually an island at all. I live on Cape Cod, a manmade island since the canal back in the early 1930s. And the summer people are definitely here; perhaps the similarities are in my head only.
Well, to the movie: this was a 1966 movie, shot entirely in California, and the feigned New England accents are horrendous (We don’t sound that ridiculous, do we ?). This is a classic comedy, though, along the lines of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, with an ensemble cast made up of pure talent on their own:
Carl Reiner — I fell in love with him 12 years earlier from the Saturday night classic Your Show of Shows, where he cavorted with Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and Howard Morris. Then The Dick Van Dyke Show, and his many years of collaboration with Mel Brooks, just to name a few of his myriad of successes.
Eva Marie Saint — Of On the Waterfront (an Academy Award-winning performance) fame, and Cary’s love interest in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, just to name two of her earlier accomplishments.
Brian Keith — I won’t even attempt to laud this gentleman, if you count his uncredited juvenile roles in 1924, he had a career of over 70 years, in fact the year this movie came out he started his five seasons as the star of Family Affair. He went back and forth between TV and movie roles with ease his entire career.
Jonathan Winters — Another talent that needs no explanation. Let it suffice to say if I had a dollar for every time he brought a grin to my face, I’d be a millionaire ! Oh, and coincidentally, he was in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World!
Paul Ford — Probably best recognized as the bumbling commander to the nefarious Sgt. Bilko in a show I remember as being called “You’re Never Too Rich”, but listed on IMdb as The Phil Silvers Show (perhaps I’m having a senior moment). Mr. Ford only had a 30-year career, but then he didn’t start ’til he was into his 40s. He also segued between TV and such movies as The Music Man, Advice and Consent, and his starring role in Never Too Late.
Theodore Bikel — The epitome of a character actor, one of those often recognized, but whose name you may not recall. His beautiful, beaming voice and talent lasted for six decades on TV, and in films such as The African Queen, Shattered and my personal favorite, The Enemy Below, where he played Curt Jurgens’ second in command.
John Phillip Law — one of his first, two years later he was in the awful (in my estimation) Barbarella, The Love Machine, etc., but then I could be wrong.
Tessie O’Shea — someone more well-known to the British, than the Americans, especially those fans of music hall entertainment. In this, one of her few films, she managed to steal the scene from Carl Reiner whilst being tied up and gagged, no small feat!
Cliff Norton — another of those wonderfully recognized character actors whose name you may not recall, but, if you watched TV from the ‘50s through the ’90s you will definitely recognize him.
Ben Blue — a silent screen star/comedian with Hal Roach, and an early TV staple. His small role in this film, and I’m not sure he actually has lines, is hilarious.
Michael J. Pollard is also in this for approximately 30 seconds, runny nose and all. You would most likely remember this rubbery -faced actor from Bonnie and Clyde, as the mechanic who joined them willingly.
And, finally, Alan Arkin — I have saved the best for last. Talk about versatility and believability; this man is superb! My first exposure to him was not in our featured film, nor the next year’s Wait Until Dark, but the year after’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, where he played a deaf-mute. I can remember being enthralled with his character, and how he portrayed him; as I already stated, versatile and believable, and apparently the Academy agreed, giving him an Oscar nomination! As an aside, in this same film both Stacey Keach and Sondra Locke (also nominated) were superb. Back to Mr. Arkin: I know that sometime in the near future I will have to watch Wait Until Dark again. There he is the personification of evil, and you believe he is evil, even after seeing him in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming!
If you have seen this film already, it is definitely worth another visit, if you have never seen it, at any time of day, you are in for a treat!
Bill Dunphy enjoys photography, cooking, reading, and, of course, movies–of which he has about 350 in his library.